“Yeah. It came out of nowhere, I’m telling you.” Jiyong shoves more pasta into his mouth.
Seunghyun’s slightly pixilated face shows concern.
That the fever came out of nowhere might just be the easiest way to put it. The odd thing is that it appeared the morning after Jiyong threw up all those words onto the paper. However his beliefs are simply not allowing him to make a connection between his badly worded lyrical confession and his physical ill-being.
Whatever the cause of it, the fever was but the deciding factor for Jiyong to postpone his and Seunghyun’s meeting. He wasn’t feeling like going anyway, but the exhaustion after three days of burning up served as a perfect excuse.
So there they are, both eating their respective lunches at their respective homes and face-timing. Close enough.
“You were fine on your own? Did you go see a doctor?”
Jiyong rolls his eyes, lets his hand that is holding a fork dramatically fall on the table. “Yup, I’m a big boy, I can handle myself. If I needed someone to make me chicken soup and hold my hand, I would’ve called you.”
Seunghyun huffs, shifts in his seat. “What I meant is that your meds might not go well with anti-inflammatory drugs, you . If you took any you should have consulted first—”
Jiyong waves him off. He puts the fork down and starts pressing down on his chest. “It was fine, it practically went down on its own. Jesus Seunghyun, I’m not five.”
Seunghyun raises the hand that isn’t holding the phone in surrender. “I was just checking.”
They eat in silence.
The funny thing is that Seunghyun still believes that Jiyong is taking medication. All of them do. This is what he was supposed to do after rehab: see a psychiatrist, get medication, go to therapy. Jiyong, however, took a less traditional route: self medication. That’s what he’s familiar with, what worked for him in the past. The only problem is that he can’t let his friends know.
Jiyong knows the silence won’t last.
The question is inevitable.
“How’s it going with Minho?”
Jiyong doesn’t look up from his quattro formaggi. “It’s going.” He chews. “He’s full of ideas. Nearly finished a song.”
“You like his work?”
Jiyong mumbles in affirmation.
“Good. I’m glad.”
Jiyong keeps chewing. He feels like the conversation isn’t over.
“What about you?”
“You’re up my too?”
“Jiyong, I’m your manager. Me and Minho, as your colleague, are the only ones who have the right to be up your about this.”
Jiyong glances at the screen. Even through the pixels he can see Seunghyun’s judgmental and expecting expression.
He sighs. “I have first drafts for two songs, possibly an idea for a third one. But it’s all over the place, it’s—it’s gonna take a lot of editing.”
Seunghyun nods with a hum as the only response. Jiyong hears the clicking of cutlery on his end.
“Maybe Minho can help.”
Jiyong’s eyes nearly get stuck in his skull. “I’m sure a rookie with zero experience will be able to edit my lyrics into perfection.”
“Don’t be an . I just think he might have some ideas or… insight.”
Jiyong stabs a penna. “No one’s got insight into what I’m writing about right now. And seriously, you’re giving him way too much credit.”
“I guess we’ll see.”
As if he needs help. What he needs is more time. He needs his mind to clear and to stop being sick.
He’s not sure that will happen anytime soon. But he still doesn’t need help.
That’s what Jiyong keeps repeating to himself in the fifth hour of his more or less hopeless attempts to collect his thoughts.
The near five hours weren’t completely unproductive, no. But their product is hardly useful. He’s managed to box the words into verses, but they aren’t working. Jiyong’s vision doesn’t match what’s on the paper, and there’s truly nothing more frustrating than that.
Chair loudly screeching against the floor, Jiyong stands up. He tries to talk himself out of it while pouring himself a drink, while looking for his cigarettes, while lighting one up.
And he doesn’t succeed.
He drops back onto his chair, a few drops of Baileys escaping the glass. He stares at the screen of his laptop and it stares back at him. Then he starts to type an email.
I hope you’re sleeping
Sending some lyrics in the attachment. It needs to be worked on. Tell me what you think.
* * *
It must be unhealthy to be woken up so abruptly.
Blinking away the flashes and colours of his dream, Jiyong presses his phone to his ear.
“I can’t get used to your student rhythm. It’s too early for this.”
“I can call later.”
Jiyong sits up, pressing the heel of his palm to his forehead. “Well I’m awake now. Shoot.”
“I took a look at your song.”
He sounds hesitant, nervous even. Jiyong can’t say he’s very happy to be receiving criticism from a child either.
“The first verse is powerful, the last one too. The, uh, chorus could have a better flow. I could return the file with some notes if that’s…”
Jiyong continues to rub at his temple. It doesn’t seem like the headache will be leaving soon.
He doesn’t like where this project is heading, or rather how it’s unwinding. He’s never had a problem doing things on his own. This, this is humiliating.
“Yeah, you do that.”
Neither of them speaks. Jiyong nearly zones out before he remembers that he has no intention of staying on the phone with Minho the entire morning.
“Well—yes. You corrected my lyrics a while back. And I was thinking—if we want to write a song together, I don’t think this way will work.”
“And which way is that?”
“Over the phone. Emails. It can be convenient, sure, but I don’t think the product of it will be genuine. Or good at all, for that matter.”
He’s unsteady on his own feet. Jiyong leans against the wall and puts his hand on his hip. “You think we need to do this in person?”
Minho takes a breath which meaning Jiyong can’t determine. “I know we do.”
Jiyong nods a few times. “Alright. Okay. I’ll send you an address, you tell me when you’re free.”
This next sigh of Minho’s is more easily determined—relief.
* * *
It took them long enough, meeting up as frequently as they could, to complete the lyrics for both their songs, and their collaboration, but they were finally done. Three songs don’t make an album, but considering how shakily and uncertainly the project started, they were doing better than expected.
Now it’s time to decide how they will proceed.
Jiyong leans forward, swishing the liquid in his glass around. “At this point we can either start recording, if you’re ready, or work on more songs.” He places his glass down, keeping his gaze on the tablecloth. “If I’m being honest, we came farther than I thought we would. Still, if we want to go for an album, there’s more work to be done.”
“You think we could do a full album?”
In their initial meeting, they never clarified what kind of a collaboration project this would be. Seunghyun has left it very open, in order to give Jiyong room to back out, or work only as far as he’s comfortable.
He nods. “I think we could.” He shifts, lifts his leg onto the chair, tucking his ankle under his thigh. “But if I’m being honest, I’m a little worn out on the writing. Slipping back into a blockade, just a little,” he mutters, making sure not to look at Minho even for a second.
He only nods, doesn’t ask Jiyong any questions. “I’ll continue to send you what I have and we can work through some more ideas.”
Jiyong nods a few times to himself, before daring to look up. Minho is peacefully sipping his drink.
Working with Minho so far has been much less stressful than he’d anticipated. In fact, he might not even be opposed to continuing the work.
“Well, Minho, I’m excited to hear your voice. The next time we see each will be at my home studio.”
Something that awfully resembles a sigh of relief escapes Minho’s lips. Jiyong only can’t determine what the relief is about.
“What is it?” He questions.
“What? Oh, nothing.” Minho pauses, then gives a little shrug. “Home studio just sounds so impressive. If I’d started off as any other rookie I would’ve had to wait my turn at the record label. Probably would have gotten the worst times to use it.”
This can’t be the answer to Jiyong’s question. But perhaps he was wrong about it being a sigh of relief in the first place.
Jiyong smiles. “Yes, I suppose that’s another thing. Seunghyun wouldn’t have given me to you if he didn’t think you were extraordinary.”
This time, Minho can’t hide his self-satisfied smile.
* * *
Jiyong turns around to look at his guest.
Minho’s lips are slightly parted as he takes a look around the house, and he looks so small and out of place. His hand grips the strap of his bag, the bag that he lets hang far too low. He stands in the hallway in his baggy jeans, lumpy white sleeveless shirt and his signature jacket, socked feet shuffling awkwardly. He looks lost.
Jiyong’s shoulders shake with a quiet giggle. “I think it’s too bright. I’m not feeling the white furniture, I’ll have to redecorate.”
“Uh-huh,” is the only thing Minho says.
On their way up the stairs, Minho mutters, “I thought it would be better once we started working in a studio, but this is just as bad,” loudly enough for Jiyong not to be able to determine whether he was supposed to hear it or not.
“Just as bad as what?” He asks, leading Minho through the door to his studio.
“Just as bad as going out every time,” Minho clarifies after a moment of hesitation.
Jiyong ungracefully drops his into his leather chair, and it spins with the impact. “Does going out bother you? You could have said something earlier.”
“It doesn’t bother me, it’s just… unnecessary expenses.” Minho looks around, still gripping at his bag, uncertain where to place his own .
“But it’s my money,” Jiyong pushes an identical chair towards Minho, “So it shouldn’t bother you.”
Minho slowly, very carefully sits down, on the edge of the leather seat. He places his bag in his lap and holds it close. “That’s the problem, isn’t it. You spend it on me as well.”
Jiyong sits up, tilts his head a little. He puts his feet on the chair, crossing his legs at the ankles. “I’m sorry, you’re a provincial student who lives in a dorm, I somehow assumed you were broke.”
Minho bows his head, beginning to play with the zipper of his bag. That noise, that noise is what will bring Jiyong to insanity one day.
“No, no, I am broke. But I still feel bad, being spent money on.”
Jiyong opens his arms. “I don’t see the problem here. I have money. You don’t have that much of it, yet. I’m the one dragging you to all my favourite places that cater to my budget. It’s only fair for me to pay, don’t you think?”
Minho nods, but he purses his lips in that way that he does. “Sure—I guess, it’s just that, you don’t have to spend that much money. We can just work here from now on.” Then he adds, quietly, “Even though it looks like a museum.”
Jiyong gives a little huff, the closest thing to a genuine laugh he’s mustered in a while. “I’d really like you to show me where to go that you don’t need to spend so much money.”
“Nothing fancy for sure,” Minho says. “But I can show you where my friends and I like to hang out.”
Jiyong doesn’t think it will really happen. Not with the way he was exhausted every day. But it did sound like a lovely idea. “I’d like that.”
There was the slightest quiver in Minho’s voice on the first try, but that was to be expected. He insists on going again. And again. And again. Jiyong doesn’t mind. He’s somewhat of a perfectionist himself. More than anything, he focuses on Minho’s voice.
It’s different than in the song that has managed to put Jiyong to sleep. It’s an entirely different style, however it makes perfect sense. Jiyong can’t imagine a song like ‘Body’ being sung with such gentleness.
“What?” Minho says into the mic.
His voice derails Jiyong’s train of thought. His gaze snaps up and for a second he’s still looking at Minho with traces of confusion on his face. Minho stares back at him from behind the glass, hands on his hips, expecting an answer.
“Nothing. I zoned out.” Jiyong pauses. “I was thinking about your style change from the demos Seunghyun sent me. That was intentional?”
Minho nods. “Did you want me to do something different?”
Jiyong huffs. Keeping a straight face he leans in and says, “Yes, and I was waiting for our last take to tell you that. Now I’ll make you do forty more.”
Minho cracks his first smile since they began recording. Not only because his song is about missing having with one’s ex, therefore giving him little reasons to smile while recording, but also because he was that anxious. He left his jacket draped over the leather chair, but he found other things to fidget with. His rings, his pockets, the rim of his shirt, his lip piercing. He was very resourceful.
Minho leaves the headphones and walks out of the booth. He sits down just as carefully as the first time, on the edge of the seat.
“Play it back,” he says as he rolls the chair forward.
Minho keeps his head down while listening. Jiyong lets him be. He himself is immersed in the song, already getting ideas about the future of this track.
When it ends, he spins his chair to face Minho.
“How does that sound?”
Minho nods. “Like a future hit.”
“Yup, if I tweak it enough this could be the future anthem for lonely recent singles.”
Minho grimaces, but a smile slips past that expression. “Oh, shut up.”
As their laughter dies, out Minho clears his throat a little.
Jiyong pays it no mind. He gets up from his seat, stretches, takes a sip of his drink. He’s thinking of proposing a break before his turn.
But Minho is tirelessly clicking his rings against the armrest, head bowed, bottom lip sticking out in a pout. Jiyong leans against the wall, his glass in his hand, and waits for Minho to speak.
He clears his throat again and begins, “But actually… I was hoping to produce my own songs.”
Jiyong raises his eyebrows. At the same time he’s surprised by Minho’s boldness, and isn’t surprised by the request at all. He feared something like this would happen.
“Well actually, that’s the part of the job I take on. It’s kind of my thing,” he says calmly.
“Right, of course,” Minho shifts just a little and looks up. Still uneasy, still tapping his fingers against the armrest. Not very convincing. “But it could be my thing too.”
Jiyong grips his glass until his knuckles go white. He nods a few times. “No, of course, why not. Because of your experience. Because you produced all those songs that…” He trails off and looks at the ceiling as if thinking. “Wait.” He looks back at Minho. “No you didn’t. You’re a college student majoring in Fine Arts. Why should I entrust you with this again?"
Minho balls his fist and starts bouncing his leg. “I know I can do it, if you just let me. With your help—”
Jiyong sighs. “Minho, when Seunghyun put you forward I didn’t ask him who you were, I didn’t ask him about your experience or education. I only asked if you were talented. He said yes. You proved that to be true. And now you’re working with me, so why don’t you let me do my job?”
Minho clenches his jaw, and for a moment that feels like an eternity, just glares at Jiyong. It seems like he’ll say something, something stupid, and Jiyong is somehow so curious to hear what Minho would be able to tell him.
But in the end, he only says, “I’m not working with you. We’re working together. I know it’s difficult to grasp the concept since you’ve always worked on your own. I simply don’t like the idea of someone else executing my vision for me. I thought you of all people would understand.”
Any kind of hint of even the most sarcastic smile is swept from Jiyong’s face. “No,” he pronounces each syllable as if talking to a child.
And he moves on immediately, “Did you want to grab a snack before we keep going?”
“No,” Minho answers, almost with just as much intensity as Jiyong’s no.